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Teachers need to watch out for anti-school Legislation

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In a sensible world, an election like the one Arizona just experienced would communicate priorities to the state Legislature.

The handy defeat of Proposition 305 and the election of Kathy Hoffman as superintendent of public instruction should spell out the electorate’s support for teachers, students, and well-funded public education. It should make obvious that a wide consensus exists in Arizona for increasing revenues for public education — which our legislature funds at abysmal levels, putting us at 48th in the nation — and that realizing those increases ought to be high on the agenda for the new Legislature.

Jennifer Samuels

Jennifer Samuels

And yet, a series of bills directed against students, teachers, and schools are now at the forefront of the legislative agenda in the Arizona House. Rather than taking up the challenge of bringing school budgets to levels that might staunch the flow of teachers to other states, opponents of reform have authored a series of backward-looking bills.

Take for instance HB2002, which is aimed at limiting students’ access to “controversial topics” and explicitly restrains teachers from singling out “one racial group of students as being responsible for the suffering or inequities experienced by another racial group of students.” The wording here is so vague that one wonders if the law would rule out lessons on slavery, the Trail of Tears, or the Japanese internment.

HB2015 stipulates that teachers may not use state resources to influence the outcome of an election, though of course such activities are already prohibited under Arizona state law. But the bill would also amend current law, targeting teachers who appear to “espouse a political ideology” and who may thus be fined $5,000.

The bill does not indicate what its authors understand a “political ideology” to consist of. Is the Jeffersonian idea that all people are created equal a political ideology? Ought it to be prohibited from class discussion?

Read one way, both laws seem either vague or a reiteration of existing statute. But they also imply that Arizona teachers are using their classrooms to indoctrinate students — a disconnected and insulting notion. They’re also aimed at intimidating teachers, chilling their political participation. That’s certainly the purpose of HB2017 and HB2018, which taken together would punish teachers and schools in the event of another walkout.

All of these bills are a reminder of the extent to which teachers changed things in Arizona during the last election cycle, and they are also an indicator of the importance of ongoing teacher involvement in the legislative process.

Every teacher who is #RedForEd should also register for the Request to Speak system, which allows citizens and voters to air their concerns, directly to legislators, over impending bills.

More importantly, Arizona teachers should understand that the fight to fund our schools, push back new vouchers, and establish accountability for charter schools depends upon our vigilance. We must watch the Legislature carefully, daily, and be ready to respond quickly to bills that are not in the interests of students or their schools.

— Jennifer Samuels is a 7th & 8th grade English teacher in North Phoenix and ran for the House in Legislative District 15 in 2018.

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